Who Are Hollywood’s Most Secretive Directors?

Photo: Splash News, Getty Images

These days, it seems like we know virtually everything there is about a movie before it comes out, whether it’s who was originally on the short list for the lead role, plot points that leaked out during production, or what the superhero’s new costume looks like. Still, there are some directors out there who are determined to keep their films under wraps until they’re finally released, even if that extends to leaving cast members in the dark: Liam Neeson recently complained that when he went in to shoot a cameo for The Dark Knight Rises, director Christopher Nolan wouldn’t tell him a single thing about the story surrounding his scene. Here are six of today’s top directors, then, who specialize in movies that are both highly anticipated and intensely secretive.

Christopher Nolan
Don’t worry, Liam: Chris Nolan is just as secretive with his other actors. When Nolan approached Michael Caine to play Alfred in Batman Begins, he wouldn’t leave the actor’s home until Caine had read the script and returned it, and when Anne Hathaway went in to meet with Nolan for The Dark Knight Rises, he wouldn’t even tell her beforehand which role it was for (poor Hathaway guessed it was Harley Quinn and went in well-researched, only to be stymied when Nolan eventually revealed he had her in mind for Selina Kyle), then had assistants track Hathaway down when she dared to bring script sides home with her. Still, would any of the final twists in The Dark Knight Rises have packed the same punch if they’d been leaked early owing to lax security?

J.J. Abrams
Who would know how to deploy a shroud of secrecy better than the co-creator of Lost? Abrams likes to keep things mysterious and surprising — he gave a famous TED talk about a “mystery box” he was given as a child that he still has yet to open, since he’s more tantalized by the unknown than anything that could actually be inside — and it’s a philosophy he extols to his audience. It’s hard to surprise plugged-in fanboys nowadays, but Abrams released the trailers for Super 8 and Cloverfield (which he produced) before either movie had even been officially announced. For the upcoming Star Trek sequel, Abrams has become even more secretive, and he still hasn’t announced what villain Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing (it’s rumored to be Khan, since Abrams approached so many Latino actors, like Benicio del Toro, before coming to Cumberbatch) or even what minor roles will be filled by new cast additions Alice Eve and Peter Weller. And while he showed “new footage” from the film on Conan recently, it amounted to a self-parodic three frames.

Terrence Malick
Until we entered the paparazzi-powered modern era, there were about as many pictures of Terrence Malick out there as there are of Nikki Finke. Still, even though you may spy the reclusive director in an unlikely TMZ video from time to time, he’s no more social than he used to be, declines interviews, and refuses to even attend his own film premieres. Malick makes movies in much the same way, keeping the cast list and synopsis relatively under wraps, perhaps because those aren’t locked down until the final moments of postproduction: Malick famously reduced The Thin Red Line’s original lead Adrien Brody to a mere cameo (and he neglected to tell Brody, who only discovered the massive cutdown while watching the movie at the premiere), and he sliced actors like Michael Sheen, Amanda Peet, and Rachel Weisz entirely out of his new film To the Wonder while also reconceiving it in the edit room to minimize Ben Affleck, who had been the main character.

Woody Allen
Woody Allen makes a film every year, and they’re the furthest thing from secret-stuffed comic-book movies. Still, Allen almost always keeps the titles, plots, and characters of his movies under wraps until long after they’re shot, and when he made a recent exception — announcing, uncharacteristically, that the film he was about to make was called The Bop Decameron — he didn’t stick to it, as Allen then changed the title to Nero Fiddled before finally settling on To Rome With Love. Allen keeps his actors in the dark, too, as he’s known to give them only the scenes they’re in, leaving the rest of the screenplay a mystery to them. Still, it’s Woody Allen, so they sign on.

The Wachowskis
Until this year, The Matrix filmmakers Lana and Andy Wachowski were nearly as press-shy as Terrence Malick, which is why it’s so unusual to see the pair now granting extensive interviews to the likes of The New Yorker in the name of promoting their new film Cloud Atlas. Lana’s gender transition may have had something to do with the directors’ low profile over the last decade; then again, they know a thing or two about keeping things super-secret: Their never-made project Cobalt Neural 9, a gay Iraq War romance that culminates with an assassination attempt on George W. Bush, was one of the town’s most buzzed-about mystery projects before the siblings moved on to Cloud Atlas. As Vulture exclusively reported in 2010, the Wachowskis changed the title of the movie a few times to throw reporters off the scent, and they demanded that agents come to the office of Warner Bros. casting executive Lora Kennedy to read the screenplay on her couch if they had any interest in sending their clients out for the project. The Wachowskis are currently shopping a hush-hush new TV series with Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, and when one of our party reporters tried to pry details about it from Lana last week, you can guess how much she was willing to divulge: not a damn thing.

George Lucas
Modern event-movie filmmakers may have George Lucas to thank for all their most effective methods of subterfuge, since Lucas perfected the art of cloaking a movie in secrecy over six Star Wars films. When Return of the Jedi was shooting, Lucas pulled an Argo and concocted a fake title — Blue Harvest, a chiller with the fake tagline “Horror Beyond Imagination” — to keep the production off the radar, a practice since copied by almost every filmmaker on this list (our favorite is Rory’s First Kiss, the sugary-sweet fake title used while Christopher Nolan filmed The Dark Knight). Later, when making The Phantom Menace, Lucas refused to divulge any character names aside from Ewan McGregor’s young Obi-Wan; fans only found out that Natalie Portman was playing “Padme” and Liam Neeson “Qui-Gon Jinn” when some sleuth found a wealth of mysterious new domain names registered by Lucasfilm. Still, even Lucas has had to make concessions to scoop-hungry fans: He originally wanted to keep Karen Allen’s return to the Indiana Jones franchise a secret until the movie actually came out, but when rumors began to spread that Allen had spent weeks shooting Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Lucas and Steven Spielberg confirmed her casting in a special video at Comic-Con.

Who Are Hollywood’s Most Secretive Directors?